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England’s World Cup qualifier in Hungary is on a ‘red list’ due to a high risk of racist abuse

England’s World Cup qualifier in Hungary has been placed on a ‘red list’ at FIFA following previous discriminatory behaviour from Hungarian fans and observers have been sent to the match to film any abuse.

Monitors will also report the reaction to England players when they take the knee before the game, which was a flashpoint when the Republic of Ireland visited Budapest in June.

The organisation appointed by FIFA to monitor the match expects the governing body to take action against the Hungarians, if there is a widespread opposition to the anti-racism gesture.

England players continued to take the knee despite objections and will do so again in Budapest

The Fare Network is also concerned that the high-profile fixture may even be abandoned under the three-step protocol, if the abuse that has marred Hungary’s recent home games is repeated.

Irish players were severely abused when they took the knee ahead of a friendly in Budapest in June and then the action of fans was enthusiastically endorsed by Hungary’s president, Victor Orban.

There was subsequent homophobic and racist abuse at all three Euro 2020 group matches in the city, involving France, Hungary and Portugal.

Hungary was served with a three-match stadium ban by UEFA following Euro 2020, but that does not apply to FIFA competitions, so more than 60,000 fans are expected at the Puskas Arena tomorrow.

Republic of Ireland players were abused when they took the knee in Hungary in June

Republic of Ireland players were abused when they took the knee in Hungary in June

‘Everyone from Ronaldo and French players were abused [during Euro 2020 matches in Budapest], homophobically and there was monkey chanting at French players and all of that led to UEFA banning [fans] for three matches,’ said Piara Powar, the chief executive of the Fare Network, which is appointed by FIFA to monitor fan behaviour at matches.

HUNGARIAN PM OBJECTS TO KNEE

The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, made outspoken remarks endorsing fans abuse of Republic of Ireland players at an international friendly in Budapest in June.

Orban, who faces a tough election challenge from a united opposition next year, said Hungarian athletes were expected to ‘fight standing up’.

‘If you’re a guest in a country then understand its culture and do not provoke it,’ Orban told a press conference the day after the game. ‘Do not provoke the host … We can only see this gesture system from our cultural vantage point as unintelligible, as provocation.’

‘The fans reacted the way those who are provoked usually react to provocation. They do not always choose the most elegant form (of reaction) but we have to understand their reasons … I agree with the fans.’

Hungarian Prime Minister  Victor Orban

Hungarian Prime Minister  Victor Orban

‘There is a foreboding mix of politics and a very diverse England team who are very keen to put their views front and centre. They are very clear that they stand for positive and inclusive values and the taking of the knee is part of theat.

UEFA did not take action after the booing of Irish players, but Powar expects FIFA to take a tougher line if there is widespread opposition to the anti-racism gesture this time.

‘With FIFA, if the booing is very loud…, if it is the majority of the crowd as it was against the Republic of Ireland, we would certainly advocate to FIFA that is an offence and FIFA will probably take a different approach to UEFA.’

‘We would definitely be advocating it is an offence and action should be taken.’

The Fare Network provides risk assessments to FIFA on each match and it has flagged this one as a ‘red list’ fixture, said Powar. As a result, FIFA has sanctioned the presence of monitors, who will file a report.

However, players, coaches and officials do not have to wait for the end of the game to take action against abuse. Under the three-step protocol, the match may be suspended if abuse is identified and the crowd warned about their behaviour. That may occur a second time and if it persists the game may be abandoned on the thjird occasion.

Powar is not aware of any abandonment, although a number of games have been suspended including England’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Bulgaria in Sofia in October 2019, which was stopped twice in the first half, and some matches involving Mexico.

‘The England players and coaching team and the executive are more confident of using that system than ever before, they know the system very well,’ he said.

‘If there is the type of racism we saw during the Euro’s the chances are the game could be stopped. Absolutely.’

‘FIFA really are using all the power they have to try to get a message across.’

England’s players have said they will take the knee prior to the match in Hungary, despite the abuse meted out to visiting teams in Budapest in recent months.

England have been steadfast in their protests against racism and continued to take the knee

England have been steadfast in their protests against racism and continued to take the knee 

And Powar has hailed the bravery of the Three Lions for sticking with their principles.

‘60,000 [Hungarian supporters] with no opposition fans, it is going to be hostile regardless,’ said Powar.

‘It is a very brave move. You have got to give them credit for sticking by their principles and doing what they believe in.

‘This is a new type of player. They are fully aware of their social responsibility; of the way they are being seen and the change they can create.

‘It is a measure of their bravery. That is a word sometimes overused. But literally knowing what might come and still doing it is a strong thing to do.

‘And knowing they will have to play, that they have an hour and half to go and the mental fortitude it will take to get through that if it gets really hostile.

Kalvin Phillips (L), says England players will take the knee in Budapest against Hugary

Kalvin Phillips (L), says England players will take the knee in Budapest against Hugary

‘We can’t predict this; we can just go on what happened at the Euros less than two months ago.’

FORCED TO PLAY BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

Hungary were ordered to play their next three home games behind closed doors after UEFA found their supporters guilty of discriminatory behaviour during Euro 2020.

Charges relating to racism and other discriminatory conduct were brought after each of Hungary’s group games against Portugal, France and Germany in June.

The third game of the ban is suspended for a probationary period of two years.

Hungary must also display a banner promoting equality at future matches.

In addition, the Hungarian Football Federation was given a £85,500 fine for the number of fan infringements.

But the UEFA ban does not apply to FIFA matches.

However, it is surprising there are any fans at the game at all, in light of the UEFA ban imposed in July. Allowing fans for the match is a ‘farce’, according to Powar.

‘If you believe sanctions can work and we do, it hurts the football associations,’ he said.

‘A lot rely on matchday income. Playing three matches with no fans will seriously hurt. They won’t want that to happen again. But you would expect them to be sanctioned for the next few games, logically.

‘I think it is a farce when you have countries where there are obvious dangers. The dangers are not theoretical, not to the spectacle, it is to real individuals. If you look at the way the Irish players were affected, many were struggling psychologically they would have felt like they were under attack. It does real damage to real people.’

All eyes will be Budapest for the game that kicks off at 7.45pm.

‘The Hungarians know they are being watched and they have a three-match ban to follow. It is a heady mix that we hope will pass off peacefully but it certainly has the potential for some very unsavoury things to take place,’ said Powar.

The England squad have discussed their response to any racist abuse ahead of the game, as they have done on previous occasions.

‘We always prepare the team for everything really,’ England manager Gareth Southgate said today. ‘We’ve done that this week. We know that we’ve had our own issues at home so we’re not focusing on other countries.’

He was quick to console Bukayo Saka after his penalty miss in the final shootout against Italy

He was quick to console Bukayo Saka after his penalty miss in the final shootout against Italy 

The England team and manager ere steadfast in their protest against racism ahead of and during the Euro 2020 tournament this summer, despite some English supporters booing their pre-match actions. 

Vile online abuse received by some players, which followed England’s final defeat against Italy, has galvanised them further, 

And central midfielder, Kalvin Phillips, told journalists the players will ‘carry on taking the knee because it’s important for us, important for our country and to fight racial abuse’. 


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